Back to the Future SETTING THE RECORD ON SHAPED SKIS STRAIGHT BY BILL MCCOLLOM
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. As this magazine has
reported, the FIS has issued an edict decreeing that the minimum
lengths and shapes of World Cup GS skis will return to dimensions not seen since the mid-1980s. The rule will go into effect
for the 2012-13 season and then filter down to the remaining tiers
of FIS ski racing in subsequent years. Gone are the shaped skis
that have transformed the sport, and coming in will be the skis that
they replaced 15 years ago.
This subject has been the source of non-stop ridicule in every conceivable ski media forum. Some call the mandate akin to reverting
to wooden tennis rackets, or pole vaulting using a 14-foot, two-by-four, or tour golfers packing their bags with wooden-shafted niblicks. Going back to the future just doesn’t work in sports. Once the
respective sports genies are out of the bottle, there’s no stuffing
them back inside.
Darwin would have been proud of the rapid rate of evolution in ski
design since the mid-1990s. Survival of the fittest could not be more
apparent in the designs and materials used in modern shaped skis.
For example, toward the end of the straight-ski era, I was starting to
loose my mojo for skiing. It seemed that race skis skidded, bounced
and chattered so much, I’d still be vibrating several hours after each
race. My knees hurt, my back ached, and my fragile ego was suffering. It was at that time that I started snowboarding, and if the
shapely new K2 Fours hadn’t come out that next season, I would
have been lost to the dark side forever.
At the World Cup level, the new curvaceous skis also provided
a jolt of adrenaline. As the skis changed, technique also evolved
to accommodate the faster-turning carving skis. Parallel shins, low
hip position, inclination, and early edge pressure put a premium
on timing, balance and agility. Watching the best in the world was
breathtaking in both the speed and the grace that could be generated. Racers seemed glued to the snow like Formula 1 race cars,
leaving two perfectly spaced railroad tracks in their wake.
Well, things will be different on the GS hill with the return to straight
skis — conjure up images of Fred and Wilma’s jalopy versus an
Audi A6. In a video recently making the rounds, U.S. World Cup
racer Warner Nickerson is seen running a training course in New
Zealand while trying out a prototype of the new ski. It’s ugly. Nickerson has to skid the top of the turns, is constantly caught leaning
in, and finds himself on such a low line from time to time, he has to
use a 1980s step-turn to stay in the course. Actually, this outcome
was totally predictable — straight skis don’t carve.
ILLUSTRATION BY RAND PAUL
SkiRacing.com OC TOBER 31, 2011 | 70